Self-Schemas and Possible Selves: Locating the Effects of Transformative Reading on the Self-Concept

:speech_balloon: Speaker: Cristina Loi

:classical_building: Affiliation: University of Basel

Title: Self-Schemas and Possible Selves: Locating the Effects of Transformative Reading on the Self-Concept

Abstract (long version below): **Self-schemas and possible selves: Locating the effects of transformative reading on the self-concept Cristina Loi, University of Basel and University of Stavanger According to the Aristotelian concept of mimesis, the core property of fiction is that it represents not reality as it is, but as it could be. The encounter between fictional worlds and readers can elicit transformative effects, and the aim of this study is to locate where in the self-concept these effects occur. Although transformative reading (Fiahlo 2019) is usually studied within the domain of literary fiction, this presentation will adopt a comparative perspective, with the further aim of shedding light on the peculiarities of transformative effects in different reading practices: books, digital fiction (hypertext, interactive fiction) and Wattpad (the most popular digital social reading platform). A mixed methods study (N= 532) distributed across the three target groups gathered data on self-selected transformative reading experiences that occurred within the last two years. We conducted content analysis on participants’ reports, employing a coding framework informed by Markus and Nurius’ distinction between self-schemas (present and past selves) and possible selves (mental representations of what a person might become in the future) – with the addition of “alternative identities”, a concept put forth by the TEBOTS model (Slater 2017), which argues that through fictional characters that are different from us, we can experience a temporary extension of the boundaries of the self. Furthermore, results showed that the activation of “storyworld possible selves” (mental projections of readers inside the fictional world through a story character, Angeles Martínez 2014, Alber 2021) is predicted by two dimensions of absorption (Kuijpers 2014): transportation and emotional engagement. As these concepts are respectively related to ontological crossing and self-recognition, these findings suggest a key role of the mutual relationship between fictional worlds and reality, as well as the importance of recognising aspects of one’s self in a text as a precondition of experiencing fiction-elicited transformative effects.


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Thank you for this great presentation @CristinaLoi Of course, I am curious about the results you gathered with respect to the SWAS. Do you have any hypotheses about why the biggest predictors of positive possible and current selves shifted from emotional engagement to transportation for negative possible selves and past selves?

Hey @CristinaLoi ! Super interesting and I’m really happy to see that you are applying these ideas about transformation to narrative mediums that have traditionally been ignored, like digital reading! I just have one silly question for now, but I look forward to the discussion tomorrow. For now, could you just clarify what the y-axis on your bar graphs for the different participant groups represents? Are they absolute numbers or percentages relative to the size of the participant group?

Hi Lynn! Thank you for your question. The y-axis displays simple frequencies, not percentages yet. I am planning to analyse percentages as soon as I will have data for all the participants.

Thank you Moniek! Indeed this is an interesting aspect, I am looking forward to discuss it during our symposium.

At first glance, I thought that it may be that past selves and negative possible selves are less “accessible” and thus are more likely to be activated when the ontological crossing/deictic shift towards the story world is particularly strong.

From the zoom chat during the symposium Q&A:

18:12:46 From Elizabeth Oldfather to Everyone:

I have a question about the valence of these transformative experiences. While it would be terrific if reading should always promote understandings that lead to positive outcomes, have you all considered issues of learning “wrong” lessons, of identificatory processing that leads to catastrophizing thought rather than helpful…? Thinking of e.g. work on narrative self as including not only meaning-making but also narratives of “everything in my life turns good to bad” (can’t remember technical term)

18:14:35 From Willie Van Peer to Everyone:

Completely agree, Elizabeth. There’ll be a piece of research on that by Massimo Salgaro & colleagues in the October issue of the Journal of Literary Semantics.

18:14:51 From Nigel Fabb to Everyone:

I had the same question as Elizabeth about negative transformations and the relation between these notions of transformation to longstanding anxieties about the negative consequences of reading

18:15:12 From Elizabeth Oldfather to Everyone:
Thank you Willie, I will look for it!

18:15:19 From Nigel Fabb to Everyone:
e.g., the ‘Werther’ effect (reading the book made people kill themselves).

18:15:55 From Willie Van Peer to Everyone:
Salgaro et al showed how certain writings may enhance sympathy for Nazi characters….

18:16:08 From dennis kinlaw to Everyone:
Are there studies which consider transformative effects in longer narrative forms (the novel) in comparison to shorter forms (stories, poems)?

And here are the questions the presenters of the symposium came up with themselves to stimulate discussion:

How to pinpoint transformative effects?

How to adapt the transformative reading framework to account for effects not elicited by the text, but rather by reading context (e.g., shared reading, education), by reading habits or other individual differences or life experiences?

How can we take these “extra-textual” factors into account in empirical studies on transformative reading?

When studying transformative reading empirically, how do we determine what a transformative reading experience is (and what it is not)?

When is something “big” enough to be counted as transformative?

How broad should we consider the concept of transformation in the study on transformative reading?

Hi! As I note in my publications on storyworld possible selves, self-schema scholars highlight feelings of anxiety at the possibility of having a core self-schema (eg., I’m a good friend, I’m a non-violente person) even minimally altered. Changes to possible selves are less strongly resisted, but when self-schemas are brought up to question, experiencers may even opt out of the narrative (e.g., drop the book or switch off the TV), or become profoundly distressed and possibly try to avoid a similar (narrative) experience, with entailments for genre (dis)preferences.